The Great Conversation throughout History

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  1. The Great Conversation throughout History

Worldview Academy Bridge Year 2014-15


Jeff Baldwin

Office Address & Phone

Library, 719-275-0946

Office Hours

M and Th 2-5 pm and always by appointment

Email Address

Philosophy 101, 10:00-11:20 am Mon and Thurs

Fall 2014, 3 hours

Course Description
The Great Conversation is a one-year reading program designed to help students develop a sense of the scope of the history of ideas, and especially the way in which Christianity shaped that conversation. By reading some of the most influential thinkers—Plato, Augustine, Luther, Descartes, Pascal, Nietzsche—students come face-to-face with the catalysts of significant paradigm shifts and epochs.

Course Objectives


Abbey Objectives

1. Know the prerequisites for absolute truth to exist; realize the fatal flaws of relativism.


2. Understand that ideas have consequences, and why this matters for education.


3. Recognize the dangers of gnosticism, especially for the Christian Church.


4. Better understand what the Bible teaches about the nature of man and the nature of God.


5. Understand epistemology and the limits of man-based systems.


6. Recognize the biblical imperative to hold still; understand the purpose of leisure.


7. Know something of the historical cost to nations embracing unbiblical ideas.


8. Be aware of God's continued engagement with human history.


9. Understand the radical praxis inherent in the call to follow Christ.


[Abbey objectives: equip students to better understand their faith as a total worldview (1); engage in both apologetics and evangelism with truth and grace (2); and learn to lead by serving, as Christ modeled for His followers (3).]

Required texts, materials and resources
(Note: students will read excerpts from books marked with an asterisk; these handouts will be provided by the instructor)

Republic by Plato (trans. C.D.C. Reeve): Hackett Publishing
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
On the Incarnation by Athanasius: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
City of God by Augustine (trans. Henry Bettenson): Penguin Books
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
The Confession by Patrick (trans. John Skinner): Image Books
Everyman's Talmud by Abraham Cohen
Beowulf (trans. Burton Raffel): Signet Classics
Pastoral Care by Gregory I (trans. Henry Davis)*
Piers Plowman by William Langland (trans. E. Talbot Donaldson): W.W. Norton & Co.
On Christian Liberty by Martin Luther (trans. W.A. Lambert): Fortress Press
Othello by William Shakespeare
Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes
Pensees by Blaise Pascal (trans. A.J. Krailsheimer): Penguin Books
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin*

Selected Speeches by Robespierre*

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (trans. Gerald E. Bevan): Penguin Books
Life without Principle and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche (trans. Walter Kaufmann)*
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Assignment Policy

1. Students will complete a reading assignment worksheet for each section assigned. They will bring this worksheet to class, both as an indication that they have completed the reading and as a reference to prompt their memories during discussions.
2. The reading assignment worksheet should reflect serious engagement with the excerpt and be persuasive.
3. Failure to complete a reading assignment worksheet will result in a grade of incomplete for the class.
4. To expedite the instructor's response, all emails should contain the course title in the subject line.
5. Students should bring their notebook and Bible to each class.
6. Cell phones must be turned off and put away. If you have an emergency situation, please inform your instructor before class.
7. Computers/tablets must be put away at all times. Notes are to be taken by hand, although students may type their notes into a Word document on their own time.
8. When a students has a special need (e.g., they need to re-schedule an exam), they should approach the instructor with one or two available solutions in mind.
9. Essays should be double-spaced with a cover page. Format follows the Chicago Manual of Style.
10. Failure to follow any written instructions in this syllabus may result in a grade deduction.

The Great Conversation course is primarily socratic. This means that students should come to class prepared to discuss what they have learned, and the questions they faced, when they read the assignment.

Please note that not all participation is valid participation. Off-topic comments or discouraging remarks aimed at other students will actually hurt your participation grade. Asking questions that you should have taken the time to research outside of class will also negatively impact your grade. Students are expected to self-learn rather than depend on the instructor to spoon-feed information to them. To better understand the socratic method, read “Iron Sharpening Iron” by Baldwin (available at
In addition, please notice that the socratic method is the worst arrangement for a classroom absent the existence of a fixed standard for truth. The socratic classroom will rapidly devolve into emotionalism unless students refer back to the Word of God as their ultimate epistemology.

Assignments are due on the date assigned, or before that date for students with excused absences on the due date. Students with excused absences do NOT need to turn in a reading assignment worksheet for the day they miss.

Students will be penalized 20% of their potential grade on an assignment for each day it is late. For example, an essay handed in two days late could earn a maximum of only 60%.

Evaluation Activities

Your grade will depend upon four variables: 30% exam, 30% essay, 30% participation, and 10% presentation.

Each semester students will read a book approved by the instructor and then write an essay identifying the theme of that book and comparing it with scripture. Students will be expected to capably defend their choice of theme by citing the book and considering the story arc; then they will compare that theme to biblical principles and determine whether or not the book is biblical. The essay will consist of six parts: introduction, plot summary, defense of theme, biblical analysis, literary merit, and conclusion. The essay will be a minimum of 1,500 words, and will include at least seven endnotes.


Students will present the findings of their essay to their classmates in a brief, four-minute speech that will be followed by a much longer question and answer time. Students should succinctly summarize the thesis of their essay and the proof that they have assembled to support their thesis, and then be prepared to defend their conclusions afterwards. Grades are assigned based on content and rhetoric.


Each semester students will take one comprehensive final exam. There will be both short-answer questions and essay questions, with the appropriate valuation. Students will be expected to identify and defend the theme of at least one of the books, as well as capably apply their faith to the great conversation.


As noted above, students are expected to come to class each day prepared to discuss the assigned reading. Students should be familiar not only with the reading, but also with the author's life and his or her historical context. It is unacceptable, for example, to arrive expecting to learn who the contemporaries of Thoreau were—students should be able to list these early in the discussion. No online sources are to be treated as reliable; Wikipedia is not an acceptable substitute for the encyclopedia.

Each day, students will earn one of three grades for their participation: A (excellent), C (complete) or I (incomplete). Students who consistently earn C's throughout the semester will earn a 75% for participation.

Grade Scale

A = 92%-100%

A- = 90% - 91.5%

B+ = 88% - 89.5%

B = 82% - 87.5%

B- = 80% - 81.5%

C+ = 78% - 79.5%

C = 72% - 77.5%

C- = 70% - 71.5%

D+ = 68% - 69.5%

D = 62% - 67.5%

D- = 60% - 61.5%

F = Below 60%

Attendance Policy

Because this course is primarily socratic, it is crucial that the student attend each class. Students are allowed two excused absences per semester (earning a “C” for that particular class). Absent students are responsible for getting the notes for that class from a classmate. All other absences will result in an incomplete grade for that particular class.

Academic Honesty Policy

Worldview at the Abbey is designed to equip Christian leaders to be salt and light wherever God leads them. As such, we expect our students to conform to the highest standards of academic honesty.
Failure to meet this standard is considered a serious offense. At the instructor's discretion, any instance of cheating or plagiarism will result in any or all of the following consequences: (1) a substantial reduction of the grade for that assignment; (2) an “F” on that assignment; or (3) failure of the course. Additionally any act of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Vice President for Academic Affairs and may lead to suspension or expulsion.
Included in this syllabus is an Academic Honesty form that must be signed by the student and returned to the instructor.

Tardy Policy

Students will have two excused tardies per semester. Any subsequent tardies will result in an “incomplete” for that day's work.

Appeal Process

A student who has questions or concerns regarding any aspect of this course should first raise those concerns with their professor. If no satisfactory resolution is reached, the student or instructor is encouraged to communicate with the Dean of Student Life. Beyond that, appeals may be made to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Right of Revision

In the event of any necessary revision of this syllabus, students will be informed well in advance and in class.

Worldview Academy Bridge Year 2014-15

Academic Honesty Policy Statement
Worldview Academy seeks to develop mature Christian leaders who demonstrate integrity under all conditions. The practice of academic honesty is a high priority in our community. Failure to meet this standard is considered a serious offense. Consequences of academic dishonesty can be far-reaching, as described in the syllabi.

I, ____________________________________________, have read and understand the academic honesty statement in this syllabus. By signing this policy I accept my responsibility to conduct all my academic activities according to this policy. I also acknowledge that any failure to adhere to the Academic Honesty policy will result in the penalties outlined above.




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